An Arts Centre for Acton?

Glynne Steele makes a plea for the Old Library to become W3's 'artistic beating heart'

Art, according to Aristotle, was less about the outward appearance of things and much more about their inward significance. If we also take the view that we humans are essentially similar and somehow different, art then begins to make sense as a medium for the shared exploration of ourselves - otherwise it just ends up being 7 Billion Different Things, lost in a world of Self.

Could the old library become an Arts Centre?

I probably should define what I (personally) mean by art. Diligence, efficiency, obedience - these are things required of all of us in many contexts from the day we’re born, but they’re far from being the entirety of what we are. What about our creative response? Our individuality? Our ability to shape, alter and reflect on the world around us and the relationships we create. These are not things that can easily be quantified, or controlled - even by their owner. ‘Art’ is the expression of who we are, as individuals, as groups, as communities - the stuff you can’t easily count or control, the stuff that leads to endless discussion and debate. And, within the ever-increasing circles in which we find ourselves living and operating, we need places to stop and think. To reflect, to participate, to understand, to enjoy; to laugh, cry, discuss, open out and play.

Most of my career has been dedicated to promoting a better understanding of ourselves - first as an environmental educator and teacher, then as an actor and director and, more latterly, by running a business that combines the two with organisational and personal development experiences that help people make better sense of their everyday selves and their interactions.

It’s my strong belief that Acton needs an Arts building - a place where people can come together and share the experience of what it means to be human, through the media of theatre, film, music, food, interactive and educational experiences. Things are already beginning to change. You can feel it - the Crossrail's coming, Churchfield's blooming and there's an Art Gallery on the High Street - so this is absolutely the time to secure a space that can act as an artistic beating heart.

When the new Town Hall opens in 2014, the Library will move into a new space and the Old Library in Acton High Street will become vacant. There’s already talk of it being turned into either flats, a chain bar/restaurant, or both. It’s my firm belief that these things can be provided elsewhere. In 1900, when John Passmore Edwards donated £4,000 of his considerable philanthropy to establish a public library for the town of Acton, I believe that his motivations were to provide for the greater good of the townspeople. As Passmore Edwards himself said

‘...a majority of people cannot say, with Prospero in the Tempest My library was dukedom large enough...
They might, however, and ought to be able to, participate in the advantages of a library created and
maintained by public action.’

JOHN PASSMORE EDWARDS ‘Autobiography’ 1905
(with thanks to Dean Grant

I very much want that participation to continue by turning the Old Library into an Arts Centre for everyone - one that will not only provide for locals but also be a beacon to bring other Londoners - and people from further afield - into Acton, something that will have an incredibly beneficial effect on the well-being of the population.

Opening and running a building in our rapidly-changing times is certainly no easy prospect - if only because the world has got so much bigger, given the incredible power of the internet and its disruptive effects on all corners of our lives. Whatever happens, there’ll never be an adequate replacement for the primacy and visceral nature of personal human interaction. So there’ll always be a place for Arts spaces. As future Artistic Director of the building, I will be committed to listening to local needs, as well as providing opportunities to further stretch and broaden out audience horizons. The Acton Arts Centre - and it’ll be called something other than that, I’m sure - will be a focal point and an anchor for this.

So, what’s happening now? Well, this first phase is about generating support for the idea, so that we can demonstrate to the Council that the Old Library really couldn’t be turned into anything other than an Arts Centre, one that demonstrates and continues the legacy of Passmore Edwards by serving the people.

To help with this, please visit the website -

Once you’re there, two things you can do:
[1] Link to the Facebook page, click ‘Like’, and encourage as many people as possible to do the same (including those out of London and abroad so that we can demonstrate that we already have ‘reach’);

[2] Take the super-short survey to help us demonstrate that support in hard facts. Look for the light green button on ‘The Survey’ page.

If you’d also be happy to undertake a slightly longer survey (including what kind of artistic provision you personally enjoy), please contact me via the website, the Forum or the Facebook page.

Thank you - and, may the Arts be with you…!

Glynne Steele

February 28, 2013



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